Architect, inventor, and author Buckminster Fuller said, “Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” If integrity truly is the key to all things successful, then it’s no wonder we visit and revisit our approach to principled leadership. A recent article by Harvard professor Max Bazerman highlights a new model for ethical leadership that caused me to sit up and take notice.
Like anyone who’s been through harrowing and defining leadership moments similar to mine, I was curious to read if Bazerman’s model revealed any connections to the conclusions I gathered during my own experiences. Every one of his five tenets rang true, but the most personally relevant was his focus on increasing your impact through influence. Specifically, Bazerman calls on leaders to “think about how you can influence your colleagues with the norms you set and the decision-making environment you create.”
Nudge coauthors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein echo Bazerman’s framework for influence by saying that “we can design the ‘architecture’ surrounding the choices to prompt people to make value-creating decisions.” In my experience, setting norms and modeling ethical decision-making were instrumental in having a positive influence on our people during difficult times. While I didn’t give it a name at the time, today I call it transformative influence, or transfluence.
Bazerman’s thoughts about decision-making prompted me to recall a community service program we launched at Prologis. It felt like the perfect opportunity to give our employees a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie—especially when the economic climate was providing a steady diet of stress on our bottom line and employees.
Creating a positive-choice environment
Community service wasn’t immediately thought of as a corporate responsibility in some countries during that time. Since we had offices throughout the world, I found myself talking to each regional head and providing a friendly nudge while giving them an array of choices so they could take ownership of an idea.
What is needed most in architecture today is the very thing that is most needed in life – Integrity. Just as it is in a human being, so integrity is the deepest quality in a building. If we succeed, we will have done a great service to our moral nature – the psyche – of our democratic society. Integrity would become more natural. Stand up for integrity in your building and you stand for integrity not only in the life of those who did the building but socially a reciprocal relationship is inevitable.– Frank Lloyd Wright, “Integrity: In a House as in an Individual.” The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright, 1954
The result was both surprising and encouraging. I found that by explaining what we were doing in the States and sharing some parameters, the programs created by leadership teams in France, Japan, and elsewhere were incredibly diverse, beneficial, and specific to their own communities. Creating a positive environment for their respective choices meant that we were influencing others to do good of their own making.
Other ways we positively influenced our company in the spirit of Bazerman’s model were the patterns we set with stakeholders and employees.
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Setting norms to avoid storms
As our communication became more frequent, was increasingly characterized by candid conversations, and was shared more promptly, you could feel the tenor change in our culture. From stakeholder meetings where we challenged investors to watch our new way of doing business unfold to town hall meetings where we told employees as much as we knew so they felt trusted, transparency became the norm.
Modeling these patterns in every channel of communication influenced our employees to behave similarly. As a result, sidebar chats, water-cooler moments, and blind-copy emails were more commonly replaced by direct and honest interactions.
As you find a new way forward in these disrupted times, I encourage you to channel Fuller’s perspective on integrity. If you embed integrity in your structure’s foundation with essential values and provide framing with the norms you establish to foster good choices, you’re bound to house a culture that can withstand any storm.